Including a return to New York City and the real life she loved.

MARC HAD TAKEN the morning off from work to have his tuxedo fitted for his wedding, which was still scheduled for the first of next month. Of course, he still hadn’t told his soon-to-be wife that Lilly’s birthday a few days before that would effectively ensure he not only had no trust fund, he also had no place to live. Lilly would inherit the mansion as she rightly should, and he’d be out on the street. He couldn’t imagine her allowing him to stay on and he’d never ask for the privilege. He certainly hadn’t earned any rights at all.

He’d already been viewing luxury rentals closer to Albany . His salary allowed for an upscale standard of living, thank goodness. He just didn’t know if upscale would be enough for Francie, for whom nothing ever seemed to be enough. Marc didn’t know why he loved her but he did.

Flaws and all. Perhaps losing her would be his punishment for past sins, he thought, not for the first time. He also loved her daughter Molly and felt certain he’d lose her, as well, just as soon as she accepted the ugly truth about his past with Lilly.

He pulled into the long driveway leading to the house and immediately realized he had company.

The black Cadillac indicated an ominous visitor. One he’d been deliberately ignoring since receiving the message demanding an audience. Marc had nothing to say to Paul Dunne. As far as Marc was concerned, the man had dug his own grave by siphoning funds from Lilly’s estate over the years.

Marc pulled his car up beside Dunne’s and stepped out into the cool fall air.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” the other man said.

“That’s because we have nothing to discuss.”

The other man raised an eyebrow. “Apparently you aren’t living in reality but I plan to enlighten you, starting now.”

Marc slipped his keys into his pocket. “You know what? I don’t have time for this.” He turned and started for the house.

“Make time.” Paul stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Lillian cannot live to see her twenty-seventh birthday.”

Marc rotated slowly. “Are you insane? Embezzling money is bad enough. You’re looking to add murder to your list of accomplishments?”

Paul let out a laugh, his eyes filled with crazed determination. “Of course not. I intend to add it to yours.”

“Now I know you’ve lost your mind.” It took everything inside of Marc not to show his own panic at the man’s words. He needed to stay calm and outtalk him, but first he had to discover what Paul Dunne had in mind.

Marc paused, deliberately remaining silent, waiting for Dunne to explain.

“The girl can’t inherit. It’s as simple as that.”

“Why? Because as soon as she does, she’ll find out about the missing money and have you arrested and thrown in jail?” Nothing would make Marc happier.

“Because I’d much rather have you inherit the shrinking pot of gold. I have as much on you as you have on me. Which means I know you won’t report me to the authorities,” Paul said with too much satisfaction. He rubbed his hands together, not due to the cool weather, Marc knew, but because he was certain he had the upper hand.

Marc swallowed hard. He wanted all the facts on the table. No surprises. “What is it you think you know?”

Paul grinned, his expression pure evil. “I know you lied to Lillian about the age at which she’d inherit so that you could manipulate her into signing her money over to you, her kindly uncle.

And when that didn’t work, I know your real personality came out and you abused the poor girl.

And I know you basically sold her to Florence Benson.”

Marc leaned against the trunk of his car for support.

Paul glanced up at the clear blue as if in thought.

Marc doubted he needed the time to think. No doubt he was just prolonging the agony.

“Oh, did I mention that I’m well aware of how you manipulated and bribed people in the foster care system to have Daniel Hunter removed from the Benson home. Essentially I know everything about you.”

As Marc thought about everything he stood to lose, his job, his reputation such as it was, and his fiancée, fear crept through him, slowly at first before exploding inside his head. “Fine,” he spat.

“We’re at a stalemate. I won’t report you and you won’t report me.”

“Good. Now let’s discuss getting you to the point where you inherit, not Lillian. You need to take care of her. For good. ”

“Hell no,” Marc said, nausea swamping him. “I’d rather let you spill what you know and take my chances with what you can and cannot prove than do your dirty work.”

Paul straightened his shoulders. As if he sensed Marc’s fear, he stepped close, suffocating him with his presence. “I’ve already tried to handle things on my own but I’ve discovered that when you hire someone, they need to have something at stake or else incompetence rules.”

“You had someone try to run her down at the mall? And set fire to Tyler Benson’s apartment?”

Marc asked, realization dawning.

Paul neither confirmed nor denied the accusations but Marc knew he was dead-on.

“You’re disgusting,” he muttered.

“Practical, just as you used to be. Lack of alcohol has dulled your edge.”

Marc shook his head. “It’s made me human.”

The trustee shrugged. “You just see to it that Lillian suffers an unfortunate accident or I will.

And just who do you think they’ll blame when she dies? Her uncle, of course,” he said without missing a beat. “After all, your reformation must be an act. You wanted the money all along, as I’ll have to tell them. And you need the money now to support your greedy wife or else you’ll lose her. That’s motive if you ask me. Oh, and don’t worry about your brother. I’ll see to it he gets enough inheritance to care for his wife. He won’t question anything beyond that. Robert was always scatterbrained. He doesn’t even know how much was in the actual trust fund.”

An old rage raced through Marc as he recalled the years of dealing with this man. Whenever Marc needed money, he’d have to go through Paul. Marc had asked Paul for money years before, and the other man had complied, using the interest in Lilly’s trust account. Marc had paid Florence Benson with the money. It was no wonder the other man made it a point to find out what Marc had needed the money for.

Beneath his suit, Marc broke into a heated sweat and the desire for a drink to numb the pain was all-consuming.

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